The PJ Tatler

LOL: Ta-Nehisi Coates Brands MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry 'America's foremost public intellectual'

Proposition: The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates is rushing to Melissa Harris-Perry’s defense because both are leftists, and because both are black.

Coates goes to great lengths to paint the entire conservative movement, including the Romneys whom Harris-Perry smeared for the crime of adopting a black child, as racist.

But his defense of Harris-Perry is itself racist. Or at least, it’s based on race.

Would he leap to defend, say, Keith Olbermann for making similar comments? Or Rachel Maddow?

I can’t prove he wouldn’t, mainly because even while both Olbermann and Maddow have marked their careers saying silly things, neither stooped to the level of smearing a white family for adopting a black child. Melissa Harris-Perry did that. She took a noble and obviously not racist act and made a racial issue of it. And then when the backlash caught up with her, she cried to keep her job. Alec Baldwin wondered if a good on-air cry would have helped him keep his MSNBC gig after he embarrassed the network.

Probably not. For one thing, everyone would assume that he’s just acting.

A couple of years back, MSNBC earned quite a bit of mockery for its lily-white on-air line-up. At that time, Keith Olbermann (white man) and Chris Matthews (white man) led a network line-up that was almost exclusively made up of white men. Others on the air at that time included Dylan Ratigan (white man), Ed Schultz (white man) and Rachel Maddow (white woman).

Not a very balanced lineup. Also not a very colorful lineup. It didn’t, in Bill Clinton’s famous phrase, “look like America.”

The Dallas Tea Party invited MSNBC’s all-white line-up to meet its racially diverse group of liberty-loving patriots, in February of 2010.

The invitation was not accepted.

Soon after that, MSNBC began its on-air makeover. Matthews survived, Olbermann gasbagged himself out of the network, Schultz has been relegated around several time slots, and the network hired Alex Wagner (attractive black woman), Martin Bashir (Indian man with British accent, so he sounds smart no matter what idiocy pours from his mouth), Al Sharpton (black man who has never found the blood on his hands to be any obstacle to mainstream media acceptance) and Melissa Harris-Perry (attractive black Tulane professor) to literally present new faces to its audience. They also recently hired high-interest credit card pitchman Alec Baldwin, but had to let him go after a series of anti-gay slurs. See above.

Am I suggesting that MSNBC engaged in race-based hiring? Well, you be the judge. The motivation to do so was certainly there. None of these hires brought proven television hosting experience to the table. They brought very reliable leftist politics, and their melanin except in Baldwin’s case*, to the network. They were all hired at a time that the network was on the defensive because of its all-white and mostly male lineup, while at the same time its all-white hosts were mocking the Tea Party for an alleged lack of racial diversity.

The changes haven’t worked. MSNBC’s ratings are still sad. Its product is a joke. Only Wagner has turned out to be a passable day-to-day host. Bashir has earned the boot for suggesting, on air in scripted comments, that Sarah Palin should be brutally assaulted. Harris-Perry probably feared she had earned the boot for smearing the Romneys. She had already earned derision for suggesting that parents should turn our children over to the loving embrace of the state. The network could add a laugh track to her show and it would only improve the product. Sharpton led the NBC lynching of George Zimmerman, proving that he could kill a man on live television and not get fired. MSNBC is a clown show that hardly anyone outside politics ever watches, unless there’s a prison documentary on, or NBC has switched it over to cover English Premiere League soccer.

What has Melissa Harris-Perry ever said that wasn’t stated either through the lens of blindered leftwing ideology or through race? Is there any grand idea that anyone can point to that MHP has proffered, that had any kind of resonance beyond her classroom or MSNBC’s ever more selective viewership? Has she ever broken a big story? She certainly hasn’t become known during her time on MSNBC for making the salient comment that strips a given issue of its ideological cloaks.

She just says what a typical leftist or race-drenched ideologue would say. Or goes farther than most leftists will go in public. All the time.

For that, Coates dubs MHP the “smartest nerd” in the room. Having spent eight years around actual smart nerds on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope project, all I’ll say is that MHP has never shown any public evidence that she is either one. Smart nerds pursue facts in ways that few or no one thought of before. They come up with the Hubble Deep Field and then figure out what it means, they discover “dark energy” as one of my colleagues did during my years there (and won a Nobel for it), they prove the existence of black holes, they test theories and either prove or disprove them, they find ways to fix serious engineering issues while they’re flying along at 17,000 miles per hour in low earth orbit, or they come up with elegant solutions to vexing problems. Those are the kinds of things that smart nerds do.

Has Melissa Harris-Perry done anything like that? Ever?

*I’d forgotten about Chris Hayes. In my defense, Chris Hayes is quite forgettable.